Who doesn’t love a list? For most of us, it’s the proverbial endless to-do-one, but recently I’ve been compiling a mental checklist of things I wish they’d taught us at school. How many times in the past twenty years have you used your simultaneous equations? My point exactly. Instead, how handy would it have been to learn – and in no particular order – how not to get gazumped, the truth about childbirth, how to avoid the divorce courts when you have two under-fives or the best way to navigate the work place which, let’s face it, is where most of us will be spending a very long time.
Oh how I wished I had known a bit more about emotional intelligence when I started out twenty something years ago. There should be compulsory A-levels on this topic. It’s the single most useful skill that will help you thrive in life and the work place. And way more important than any career service at school or university will impress on you. It’s that ability to work out how you fit into a situation and be sensitive as to how you are perceived. Certainly it will help you manipulate a meeting to your best advantage if you are able to ‘read’ the emotions of others and learn to say the right thing to obtain the right result. Your double first from Oxbridge will resonate far less if you are arrogant and unable to see beyond the end of your nose.
In his 1995 book, Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ, psychologist Daniel Goleman described EQ as knowing how to handle feelings without being swamped, being able to motivate oneself to get jobs done, being creative and performing to one’s peak and sensing what other people are feeling.
While we are pretty much stuck with our IQ level, emotional intelligence can be developed until well into our 40s regardless apparently of whether someone is a born leader or not with most people bolstering their work performance by improving their EQ.
How to improve your EQ?
- At the core of trying to achieve this is learning to become a better listener.
Hard I know in today’s selfie/ selfish/ self-promoting society where we are all encouraged to wade or ‘lean’ in. The more you listen however, the more intuitive you become and more in tune with your gut although that’s a whole other topic. A lot of the time it pays to hang back, listen, don’t be a bull in a china shop.
- Be more self-aware
Another step on the path to improving your EQ is knowing yourself ie becoming more self-aware and understanding –or being honest and admitting – your strengths and your weaknesses. This is easier said than done because few of us like a long, hard stare in the mirror.
Feedback from bosses and colleagues can be enlightening and provide meaningful insight into any behaviour we need to develop or change. Try to be open-minded and not too sensitive or defensive.
It’s also worth asking what you might have done differently. Again, easier said than done. Obviously it’s not possible to be entirely immune to other people’s opinions. Something a former boss once said to me still rings in my ears and still irks. But she was right and I am a much happier and more positive person for addressing her observation.
Some people find it useful to have a mentor or a business coach to help them (really, a truthful, no-nonsense friend would work equally as well if the above doesn’t feel appropriate). Look on the feedback as the opportunity for growth, and the chance to improve. This exercise is not a popularity contest so you might have to get used to sucking up a few harsh truths.
- Developing greater empathy is essential.
A good way to do this is to put yourself in other people’s shoes and try and avoid being judgemental. Remember, not everyone is like you. A person who has empathy, has compassion and an understanding of human nature that allows him/her to connect with other people on an emotional level.
Remember: you don’t know everyone’s background story day to day. Do you really know why your usually easy going colleague has just snapped at you? Take the time to find out; there’s nearly always a reason, and sometimes, with a bit of prodding from you, they might be quite pleased to discuss it.
A knee jerk reaction often is to go on the defence. But often that judgement or criticism is not directed at you. Sometimes it’s not about you at all , but rather what someone else is thinking and their own perceptions projected onto you. In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs and their wishes to control or manipulate a situation.
It’s also worth paying attention to when you feel negative emotions. They are usually a sign. If you are frustrated, ask yourself why. If you have explained the same thing three times and people still don’t understand what you mean, take responsibility.
- Have the courage to admit you are wrong. Often!
Admitting mistakes and learning from them shows character, integrity and that you’re not a robot. No one likes a smug person. We instinctively warm to people who are only too happy to show their shortcomings (again back to empathy).
Emotionally intelligent people are self-motivated. They’re also not motivated simply by money or a job title. They are usually resilient and optimistic when they encounter disappointment and driven by an inner ambition.
People who are emotionally intelligent are able to build up trust quickly with others on their teams. They avoid – and er, don’t waste time in needless power struggles, bitching and backstabbing. They usually enjoy other people and have the respect of others around them. Little wonder that they soar in life and in the work place.